The future of work: addressing tomorrow's skills and jobs challenges

By Volker Ahlemeyer

The future of work: addressing tomorrow's skills and jobs challenges

Globalisation, technological progress, demographic changes – our fast-paced world creates opportunities and challenges for employees, businesses and policy-makers. What will our professional lives look like in the future?

At the EBRD's Annual Meeting and Business Forum in Jordan, a debate on the topic The future of work: addressing tomorrow's skills and jobs challenges followed an address by Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah, a passionate advocate for education as well as youth and community empowerment.

“For all the challenges that an automated future will hold, it also provides opportunities. Machines and robots will supplement people (…) but they will not supplant us,” she pointed out.

BBC World News anchor Lucy Hockings hosted an engaging session, together with the EBRD’s Mattia Romani, Managing Director for Economics, Policy & Governance, on how the demand for jobs and skills is changing.

“The key is not to run faster, but to run smarter than technology is moving,” said Dana Reizniece-Ozola, Minister of Finance, Latvia. This way, the current changes, especially in the IT sector, can benefit people.

 “And yes, we’re the winner of this process, as it gives new opportunities to businesses and people.”

Ms Reizniece-Ozola, a chess enthusiast, stressed that governments need to think strategically and provide people with the right skills for the job market. At the same time, they need to adapt their policies to the new circumstances and not be afraid to fail.         

The need for action was echoed by Mr Keese, Head of Skills and Employability Division at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) .

“Don’t wait for the jobs to disappear, act early!” This was his message for governments, employers and unions alike.

But what exactly are the changes that we need to act on? Can we influence them and if so how? Which sectors and population groups are more affected than others?

Ayman Ismail, Director of the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at The American University in Cairo provided the example of agriculture in Egypt: while the sector employs more than 30 per cent of the population, it accounts for only 17 per cent of GDP.

On the other hand, businesses developing software applications, such as in the transport sector, can create new opportunities for people which have not existed before – both for employment and for services improving people’s daily lives.

The challenge is the transition between now and the future, he stressed. Policy-makers and businesses have to prepare workers to make the shift from currently available jobs to those that will exist in the future. Finally, they need to provide a social safety net for people who fear about their future.

Barbara Rambousek, Acting Director for Gender and Economic Inclusion at the EBRD, pointed more specifically to new employment opportunities – for example in the technology, healthcare and education sectors – and how they can help release the full economic potential of society.

“A huge amount of work is done to help women access new jobs,” she pointed out. The gig economy provides opportunities to them to benefit from flexible working hours. Women can also work remotely for companies in foreign countries, when social norms may not permit it in their own. Finally, there are many new education opportunities available to them online.

The panellists agreed that the labour markets will need to adapt to new circumstances, but that there are many new opportunities to build inclusive and sustainable economies by releasing the full potential of society, including especially young people and women.

The debate also put the current challenges into broader perspective. For a long time, people have been worried about the role of machinery and technology in the work space, as panellists pointed out.

“But we, ladies and gentlemen, are not redundant,” as one participant pointed out. “There will be new opportunities.”